"My bad," Michael Carter-Williams mouthed to his teammates, tapping his chest and turning around to get back on defense after he had inadvertently directed the ball out of bounds on a drive to the basket.
The Sixers were facing the struggling Charlotte Hornets on a Friday night in Philadelphia, a game they would eventually drop, and it was Carter-Williams' third turnover of the first half. While that particular turnover, in the first half of a game in mid-December, wasn't particularly important, it was representative of a larger issue.
After a statistically successful, albeit up-and-down rookie campaign, Carter-Williams is looking to smooth out his game and solidify his spot as the rebuilding Sixers' young leader in his second season.
His play-making has improved, and he finds himself as the league's eighth-leading assist man, just in front of the player he replaced, Jrue Holiday. Carter-Williams is averaging 7.4 assists per game this year, up a full assist from his average of 6.3 last season, and his assist percentage has jumped from 30% to 41%. His confidence in his teammates has grown, and he is getting better at putting them in good position to score the ball. He is quick to credit them for that improvement.
"My teammates are doing a great job of getting to the hoop and finishing, knocking down shots, and getting in the right position."
Carter-Williams' biggest flaws from last season remain as glaring weaknesses in his game however, and it will be extremely difficult for him to continue to develop into one of the league's premier points if he is unable to improve upon his shooting, and more importantly, his ball control.
While Carter-Williams is in the top-ten league-wide in assists per game, he is also numero uno in turnovers per game, and that is an alarming issue. With an average of 4.8 turnovers per game, Carter-Williams averages almost an entire turnover more than the next closest competitors, James Harden and Russell Westbrook.
While some of the reigning Rookie of the Year's turnovers are a result of him trying to overcompensate for a lack of surrounding talent, too often he simply tries to force the issue by either dribbling himself into a tough spot, or forcing a pass into traffic. Often, Carter-Williams' are live-ball turnovers that lead directly to transition scores for the opposition.
"I just keep fighting," Carter-Williams said of his approach to playing through the lumps, and the point guard is well aware that he needs to cut back on his mistakes.
"I definitely want to limit my turnovers," he stated before the season's start.
Cutting back is something that he has been unable to do up to this point in his second season however.
The rate at which Carter-Williams turns the ball over nearly neutralizes all the production provided by his assists. While Carter-Williams is eighth overall in assists per game, he drops all the way down to 73rd overall (!) when you look at his assist-to-turnover ratio. Guys like Marc Gasol, a center, and Evan Turner have better assist-to-turnover ratios than MC-W.
"I just have to take my time, and make better decesions with the ball," Carter-Williams said after the loss to the Hornets. "It's a process."
Brett Brown echoed his point guard's sentiments.
"[Michael] is at his best when he lets the game come to him."
The amount that Carter-Williams has the ball in his hands has to be taken into account, of course. He leads the NBA with 102.9 touches per game, meaning that the ball is in his hands a lot. With the ball in your hands so much, turnovers are bound to occur. Still though, far too many of the turnovers are the result of mental mistakes made by Carter-Williams, and the turnovers stand as the main issue in his game he needs to address. His shooting stroke still needs major work, and the addition of a consistent jump shot would open up the floor for him, but it is not as pressing of an issue as he is still able to find other ways to be effective offensively. Tony Parker, now widely regarded as one of the game's more consistent-shooting point guards, didn't shoot over 50% from the field until his fifth season.
Carter-Williams is making some strides in his second season as he continues to spearhead the struggling Sixers, but until he is able to gain better control of the ball and turn it over less, he will not be able to reach his potential as a player or to establish himself as one of the game's premier point guards.